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Process Mapping

Process Mapping

A process map is a graphical representation that illustrates the sequence of activities within a business process. It represents these activities in a step by step manner to help understanding how a product is made or how a service is carried out. Process maps are simple ways of making sense of what is happening or must happen within a process. They allow to know how exactly an organization does its work, and how well it is performing in accordance with its objectives.

A process map provides a mechanism for analyzing and studying any process. They are considered the first step toward process management and process improvement. They are used to map existing processes, to design new processes, and to map the future state of how things should be after implementing continuous improvement initiatives. Continuous improvement teams are using process maps very often to identify the variability and the non-value added activities that exist within any process, enabling them to agree on the actions to take to improve or redesign the process.

So what are the benefits of using a process map anyway? A process map enhances the understanding of the process and how it operates. It helps bringing clarity to complex processes in order to simplify, streamline or optimize them. It helps identify problem areas such as bottlenecks, delays, duplication of effort, and overall inefficient operations. Additionally, process maps can provide inputs to other continuous improvement techniques. They can also serve as means to document and communicate business processes, and are often found in training, maintenance, technical and quality manuals.

Processes can be mapped and analyzed using different techniques depending on what you want to achieve. The following are some of the most common techniques:

Example – Equipment Installation

The following equipment installation process map is an example that uses the simple-drawing format.

Note that you may add additional information to each activity such as time and responsibilities. Rework loops can also be added where activities are repeated. Here in this example we have two rework loops.

Example – Doing the Laundry

The following is an example of a process map for doing the laundry in the old fashioned way.

Often times it is useful to number the process steps (as in this example) to avoid losing track of the flow, especially if the process has lots of activities.

Process maps can describe processes in different levels of details, just like real maps. Each process step can itself be decomposed into several sub-steps, as illustrated below. Additionally, a process itself can be as simple or as complex as required, and the amount of detail varies depending on the needs.

Example – Making Orange Juice

The following is a process map for making orange juice. This process may be part of a larger process (for example, preparing breakfast).

Additionally, each of the five process steps can be decomposed further. For example, you may describe how to peel and slice the oranges or how to use the mixer machine. It is important however to work at the level that makes sense for your situation.

Example – Repairing a Defective Unit

The following is a process map for repairing a defective unit after received by a customer. Only one process step has been mapped to a second level.

Notice the rework loop which occurs when it is discovered during testing that the installed part is non-functional. Notice also the 10%, which represents the average proportion of the discovered non-functional parts during testing. This is the key performance indicator that needs to be tracked for continuous improvement.

Process Mapping
Common sources of
key process input variables

One of the main aims of mapping a process is to control the inputs and monitor the outputs to reduce process variability. Input variables are often classified into three categories:

  • Noise factors (N), which are the uncontrollable, costly or preferably not to be controlled factors, such as environmental and cultural factors.
  • Standard factors (SOP), which have been standardized according to some operational requirements, regulations or best practices. Examples are safety and preventive maintenance factors.
  • Design factors (DF), which are the controllable factors that can be adjusted, such as the speed of a machine and the ingredients of a recipe.

Classifying input variables will help you focusing on the factors that are controllable. Remember that only the design factors is where you need to focus your efforts to improve the process.

Example – Making Coffee

The following is an example of a process map that details the steps required to make coffee drink.

Note: Although there are many possible sources of variation, only the eight controllable factors could be adjusted to influence the quality and taste of the coffee.

How to Construct a Process Map

Process maps are easy to understand and simple to construct through the following steps:

  • Gather the team and make sure that everyone is clear on the process that is going to be mapped.
  • Agree on the mapping technique to be used, on the appropriate scope and boundaries, and on the level of detail.
  • Generate the ‘As-Is’ process map by identifying all the current activities and their sequence of completion.
  • Add further details as necessary, and classify the input variables as Design, Noise or SOP.
  • Once the process is mapped, analyze it to identify problem areas and improvement opportunities. Identify all the areas that hinder the process or add little or no value.
  • Build the ‘Should-Be’ process map.
  • Implement actions to reduce variability and improve the process.

There are many tools that can help you to draw a process map. One of the simplest ways is to use this process map template.

Further Information

A good first step in process mapping is to ‘walk the process’ to get an overview of the process and identify the boundaries. And while you walk and observe the process, you could take notes and identify the input and output variables.

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